Friday, June 26, 2009

Slavery and Religion

Many today seem to say that religious groups and church leaders may not speak out on various political policies because of so-called "separation of church and state" in the Constitution. There are already many examples on this site that show actions by our founders (the same ones who ratified the Constitution) that show an entirely different interpretation of the Constitution.

Consider the role that religion played in eliminating slavery. Even before our Revolutionary Way religious groups were pressuring the nation's leaders to do something about this. The disagreements over slavery almost doomed our Declaration of Independence and remained a controversy as the Constitution was written. The latter document contained compromises that were necessary to produce a single, unifying constitution to give our country it framework. However, the Constitution also contained the means to correct this: the amendment process.

The Library of Congress has much useful information about our history. Included in that collection is a fairly extensive page of historic tidbits called "Abolition, Anti-Slavery Movements, and the Rise of the Sectional Controversy."

In it we learn of the role of the Quakers:

Benjamin Lay, a Quaker who saw slavery as a "notorious sin," addresses this 1737 volume to those who "pretend to lay claim to the pure and holy Christian religion." Although some Quakers held slaves, no religious group was more outspoken against slavery from the seventeenth century until slavery's demise. Quaker petitions on behalf of the emancipation of African Americans flowed into colonial legislatures and later to the United States Congress.

In this plea for the abolition of the slave trade, Anthony Benezet, a Quaker of French Huguenot descent, pointed out that if buyers did not demand slaves, the supply would end. "Without purchasers," he argued, "there would be no trade; and consequently every purchaser as he encourages the trade, becomes partaker in the guilt of it." He contended that guilt existed on both sides of the Atlantic. There are Africans, he alleged, "who will sell their own children, kindred, or neighbors." Benezet also used the biblical maxim, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," to justify ending slavery. Insisting that emancipation alone would not solve the problems of people of color, Benezet opened schools to prepare them for more productive lives.

Other speakers include Connecticut theologian Jonathan Edwards, born 1745, who the Library of Congress says:

"...echoes Benezet's use of the Golden Rule as well as the natural rights arguments of the Revolutionary era to justify the abolition of slavery. In this printed version of his 1791 sermon to a local anti-slavery group, he notes the progress toward abolition in the North and predicts that through vigilant efforts slavery would be extinguished in the next fifty years."

Then there is the famous abolitionist Sojourner Truth:

Abolitionist and women's rights advocate Sojourner Truth was enslaved in New York until she was an adult. Born Isabella Baumfree around the turn of the nineteenth century, her first language was Dutch. Owned by a series of masters, she was freed in 1827 by the New York Gradual Abolition Act and worked as a domestic. In 1843 she believed that she was called by God to travel around the nation--sojourn--and preach the truth of his word. Thus, she believed God gave her the name, Sojourner Truth. One of the ways that she supported her work was selling these calling cards.

We also see a tract published in 1959:

This abolitionist tract, distributed by the Sunday School Union, uses actual life stories about slave children separated from their parents or mistreated by their masters to excite the sympathy of free children. Vivid illustrations help to reinforce the message that black children should have the same rights as white children, and that holding humans as property is "a sin against God."

Read more at the Library of Congress:

Abolition, Anti-Slavery Movements, and the Rise of the Sectional Controversy

1 comment:

Euripides said...

Waaaaaaiiit a minute! Didn't we learn in our college history classes that slavery was ended by progressive liberals? And I distinctly recall reading that Obama said we did it without the shedding of blood.

I'm confused. ;-)